Interview with Comic Creator Amara Leipzig

Amara Leipzig is a comic book artist and student studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Amara’s work is characterized by a simple yet vibrant use of texture and white space. Her depiction of the human form is haunting, and the content of her work is at times provocative (and always compelling). Amara has self published several comics, including “Yizkor,” a tale inspired by her grandmother’s experience during WWII.  Amara’s comics are for sale at Quimby’s Bookstore in Chicago. She has recently illustrated a book entitled How Many More Questions? You can read a synopsis of the book here and view sample pages here.  Visit her website  to check out  more samples of her work.

 Convince us, in one sentence, that your comics are awesome.

When I ask my friends about the strengths of my work, they say that my comics tap into fairly universal human emotion in a way that allows people of many ages, groups, and genders to connect with the condition of my characters. This is definitely what I’m working towards so I hope it to be true!

What (or who) inspired you to begin creating comics?

My oldest friend, Josh Grapes, used to write comics that I would draw when we were like 7. I don’t think we ever finished one and I stopped making comics for “serious art” like painting. It was probably watching a good friend, Susan Sarandon, make an incredible comic a couple of years ago that started me at it again. (check out artbysusansarandon.wordpress.com and you will not be disappointed!!!)

 What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?

Hands down, “Abandoned Cars” by Tim Lane. I’m a sucker for the American Dream. But “Curses” by Kevin Huizenga, “Against Pain” by Ron Rege Jr and “Sleepwalk and Other Stories” by Adrian Tomine all deserve a tied second.

If your comics had a soundtrack, what songs/artists would it include?

Podcasts because that’s all I listen to while I’m drawing and inking. Often, when I’m done with a comic and I read through it, at different parts I’m hit with the emotional reaction I had to whatever story I was listening to on Radiolab or the Moth or whatever at the time.

For others though, maybe A Silver Mt Zion or some Tim Hecker?

Tell me more about “Yizkor.” I read the sample pages online and found them compelling and somewhat haunting.

During WWII, my grandfather was weatherman for the air force. He travelled around the States, and wherever the government sent him, my grandmother decided to pack up her bags and follow. “Yizkor” is the story of her experiences through the war mirrored by my relationship with her. When I wrote the comic, I was the same age she was at this time. Yizkor is a special memorial service in the Jewish faith that is only said on three or four days every year. I hoped that this comic would act as a memorial to my grandmother’s experiences and losses that so many of that generation shared.

What is your dream job?

A long string of really different kinds of experiences. I’d like to be an educational therapist, an art or physics teacher, a master printer, a published writer and cartoonist, a tutor, and many other things throughout my life. I realize that each of these professions take a lifetime to master and so I would probably also be happy doing just one.

How has being a Chicagoan affected your writing? Are their any neighborhoods in Chicago that have had a particular effect on you or have played a role in your creative process?

I moved to Chicago just about three years ago. Growing up in a secular Jewish family in the thick of Los Angeles is probably what has influenced me the most thus far. But in terms of Chicago, the shitty weather continually motivates me to find interesting activities to partake of inside, where there is heat. And a good cafe where I can do work is necessary. Swim Cafe, the Bourgeois Pig, Noble Tree and Nothin’ Less are favorites. All of the great libraries, museums, galleries, print shops, and small bookstores make for an inspired environment I could only try in vain to find in a city like LA.

 What advice would you give other aspiring comic artists and writers in regards to getting their stuff published?

In the beginning, the point is to get your work out into the world so that people can find it. This means that breaking even is much more important than creating a profit, no matter how much time you spent actually producing the books. You will have to compromise on your perfect choice of binding or print quality or paperweight for the sake of being able to make a larger edition. People will forget you if they don’t have a way to find you again. That’s why it’s awesome that making a blog is free and participating in expos and fests is generally cheap. These are at least all things that I tell myself.

What I’ve seen that stops my friends is the fear of being good enough and the fear of the technology at their disposal. You can’t get better if you don’t make something! Honestly, just put your pencil to a piece of paper and start. Making three panels of a comic that will never be finished is way better than having the perfect story exist in your mind only. And having pages and pages of god awful comics is better too. Because it’s a beginning. If you want, you really only have to show the end product to yourself. Never let the fear of a xerox machine stop you because self publishing is your best friend. Don’t be afraid to ask how to use them but most importantly spend some time getting to know the machines around you and you will be rewarded.

 What is your next project?

For the past couple months, I’ve been working on a story about a girl who lives all alone in the wilderness. Around her, she can see ruins of structures that could have been built by humans but she’s never seen another person nor does she know how she’s happened to exist in this place. The comic follows her growing up and making the sense of the world around her. It’s still very much in it’s beginning stages but is starting to look like it will be a much longer beast than I’m used to that will probably take me quite awhile. I’m trying to get myself to start writing in chronological order so that I can put out a first issue within the next four-ish months so keep an eye out!

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Review and Rating of The End Is Totally Nigh

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: what’s better than a kick-ass comic book with a strong female lead? How ‘bout a kick-ass comic book with a strong female lead written by a woman and featuring demons, pistols, and bottles of liquor? Let me introduce you to The End Is Totally Nigh, a comic book written by Kara Barrett, who I interviewed several weeks back. This comic is a black and white cocktail of horror, western, and manga. Let me elaborate:

The story begins with witty narration and a full-on splash page depicting a horde of demons emerging from some netherworld to overtake our real world. We are first introduced to our main character, Jane, as she muses about the fate of the world while taking a swig out of what looks like a bottle of whisky. At this point, I’m interested because what I see is some cool western elements (the style of the town, the whisky, the duel-equse pose between Jane and an unnamed antagonist) combined with manga-inspired artwork (dewy eyes, lines galore, and, of course, the lack of color).

And then the horror element arrives. We are taken back in time to one of Jane’s first missions as a demon expert. The setting is a middle school in the “boonies.” And the demon has possessed a little girl.  Here, we are introduced to what might be the beginnings of a team: a cigarette-smoking priest, a guy who calls himself Cowboy, and their snappy leader Grace. Teams are always fun (if you didn’t see the Avengers movie, what are you doing reading this blog?), so I’m hopeful for this team’s evolution in issues to come.

Overall, the art is cool. I like it. It’s also smart. See Page two, panel two for some awesome composition. Plus, the creators aren’t afraid to experiment with unique angles.  The writing is witty and interesting. I already have a feel for Jane’s character, and I’ve only known her for 25 pages. Although I was a bit confused at some points, the cliffhanger ending has me wanting more.

 The End Is Totally Nigh will be available soon. In the meantime, check out the Facebook page and a free web version of Issue #1.

UPDATE: The End Is Totally Nigh has been picked up by Alterna Comics for their digital line up. Issues will be up on comixology later this summer. 

 % Panels Devoted to Women

Probably close to 95%, especially since the demon has possessed a little girl who gets more than a few full-panels to herself.

Women in Action

 ★★★Women often participate in plot-moving action.

Jane’s the main protagonist after all.

Women as Leaders

★★★Women often lead the other characters.

The team’s leader is a woman, and Jane does some leading herself.

Women as Sex Objects

★★★Women are depicted as sexy (or their sex is not emphasized at all), but their allure does not define their purpose as a prominent, plot-moving character in the comic.

Jane’s cute, no doubt, but it’s clear that her actions speak stronger than her appearance. She’s compared to a girl scout by one of the other characters, but her unique demon fighting abilities prove she’s a lot more than she appears.

Men Deviating from Male Stereotypes

★ ★ Men sometimes deviate from the male stereotypes of a logical mind, rationality, lack of expression and empathy.

One of the guys calls himself Cowboy. The priest is kind of a hard ass. I don’t see any guys acting apart from society’s expectations, at least not yet.

Interview with Comic Writer Kara Barrett

It’s not every day that I stumble upon a comic that 1. has a strong female lead 2. has awesome art 3. involves fighting, superpowers, and other such kick-ass elements. Kara Barrett’s The End Is Totally Nigh gets a little checkmark for each of my qualifications for a throughly enjoyable comic book read. And there’s a lot to learn from Ms. Barrett, who made her dream comic happen through the help of Kickstarter, hired artists, and a ton of hard work. In this interview, she shares her experiences and advice for those looking to get their comics out into the world. (Oh, and check out a preview of the comic here.)

Convince us, in one sentence, that your comics are awesome.

The End Is Totally Nigh is one BIG burrito-wrapped apocalypse of awesome filled with hellfire, horseheads, heroes and demons! How’s that?

What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?

My favorite comics right now are Rachel Rising and Saga. But I’m always looking for new titles. You have any recommendations for me? I’ve also backed a few on Kickstarter that I can’t wait to read.

What (or who) inspired you to begin creating comics? Why did you begin writing and creating comics?

I read comics when I was a kid and then stopped. When Buffy went to comics, I picked up a few copies and fell back in love with them. A few years ago I started writing this story in a loose format. I looked at different mediums for my story, and ultimately decided that comics were the way to go. I think they are a great way to put your story into people’s hands.

Tell me about  The End Is Totally Nigh.

The End Is Totally Nigh is a story about a girl with mysterious abilities who is trying to stop the impending apocalypse. She suddenly has the ability to exorcise demons, but it isn’t sure how or why she is able to do this. All she does know is that the demon army is about to rise and Lucifer is going to walk the Earth. It’s up to her and a group of ragtag demon hunters to try make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s a supernatural story filled demon bad guys and plenty of apocalyptic drama. I think readers will really enjoy it.

If your comics had a soundtrack, what songs/artists would it include?

The End Is Totally Nigh playlist? Yes, I’ve got to create that!  I think there’s some country music on that playlist. T-R-O-U-B-L-E and Amarillo by Morning for the main character Jane. And Thunderstruck. That’s a must. I’ll have to ponder on the rest.

Why did you decide to write a comic with a strong female lead? When I began work on my own graphic novel, Fusion, I purposely wanted to break gender stereotypes so prevalent in superhero comics. Were you motivated at all by a similar “feminist” objective?

I definitely wanted strong women in this comic. The End Is Totally Nigh is filled with great female characters who take charge. They are also drawn in a more realistic manner than a lot of what you see in today’s comics. I hope that is a refreshing change for some readers.

You used Kickstarter to fund The End Is Totally Nigh. Would you use Kickstarter again to fund another project? Why did you choose to use Kickstarter in the first place?

I heard about Kickstarter and decided to try it as a last attempt to make this series happen. It was a lot of work but totally worth the effort. I think crowdsourced funding is helping a lot of indie writers get their stories to public. I think that means we can expect a lot more variety in comics and graphic novels. I would definitely try it again and may do so very soon. The End Is Totally Nigh is funded from my own pocket, so I will be in need of an influx of cash soon to keep the series going. 

What was most intimidating about breaking into comics, and what tips would you give others who are hoping to break in as well?

I think I read something recently where someone said, there is no such thing as ‘breaking’ into comics anymore because of sites like Kickstarter. If you have the gumption, you can just go out there and MAKE a comic. I think that’s true. Write a story you believe in, find an artist and get your funding. Anything is possible!

What advice would you give other aspiring comic artists and writers in regards to getting their stuff published? What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?

Self publishing is a lot of work, especially if you are new to the business and no one has ever heard of you. But the upside is that if you self-publish you can keep all of the profit. If you have the time and money to devote to self-publishing, then go for it. Personally, I am juggling full time work, freelance work and writing and promoting this series. My plate is pretty full. I have recently found a small indie publisher willing to help distribute the title. I hope to be able to announce who that is very soon. Once I have more experience I may pitch a new book to a big publisher and see if gets picked up. Ultimately, I think it’s really just a matter of what you have the time and money to accomplish.

How do you think the experience of comic creating and publishing differs for men and women (if it does at all)?

I really don’t know. This does seem to be a male dominated industry, but that is changing. Kickstarter and sites like that are giving a lot of female writers a chance to create and publish their own projects. That is really exciting. I’m glad to be a part of that.

What is your next project?

I have two in the pipeline. One is a mini series and the other is a one issue horror story. I hope to get the funds to do one or both of them later this year. Right now I’m devoting my energy to getting my series off of the ground and hopefully hitting some cons this year.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Please visit  our Facebook page and “LIKE” us so you can keep updated on news, release dates and information about the series!

Comic Books 101—Part Five

How Will You Break into the Comic Industry?

“How will you break into comics?” my professor asked the class. He chose three students to convene in the hall and discuss their determined path to becoming comic book writers. The rest of us, he told us, were to play devil’s advocate.

The three students came up with three very different plans for how they were going to break into comics. After the remainder of the class picked apart their ideas until things got a little feisty, we had developed three unique—and possibly doable—ways to break into this turbulent, unpredictable industry.

  1. Attend comic conventions and network like a crazy person. Or, as one student put it, become a comic book whore. Give your comic to anyone who walks within a three-foot radius. Stalk editors and pitch them your arsenal of story ideas. Grab a beer with some fellow comic con attendees after the day is over and continue your networking endeavors well into the night. Basically, make full use of the opportunities a comic convention has the offer. What could be more beneficial to an inspiring comic writer than a large group of comic professionals crammed into a convention space for the sole purpose of talking comics?
  2. Pursue the indie rout. Utilize your current contacts within the industry and just BE NICE (because you never know who can help you later on). Sell your work on consignment in willing comic shops. Set up shop on Etsy.com. Self-publish until a publisher with more funds and expertise is willing to pick up your work. Basically, prove your worth as a writer by creating your own stuff NOW, nurture and grow you contacts, and just get yourself out there.
  3. Brand the hell out of yourself. Start a blog. Don’t create a new you, but do hyperbolize the real you. Social media is your best friend, so utilize it. Write for other blogs or web sites, even if they don’t initially seem to be relevant to your career path. Basically, build your digital platform and launch off it as much as possible. Hell, go viral!

My personal plan for success consists of branding (hello, Ms.Comix!), networking (did you know that comic book publishers/editors/writers/artists actually really like to chat with newbies?), and writing, writing, writing.

Which path will you take?

And, by the way, some other quick tips I learned in class today:

  • Standards are tough right now, so hold yourself to them.
  • Take advantage of what might seem like a disadvantage (e.g. being a woman in a formerly all “boys’ club”).
  • The self you are selling is yourself…only more so.

See you next week for another Comic Books 101!